[The following is an exact transcript of this podcast.]
Truth in advertising is a questionable concept, because it’s often self-serving to lie. Whether you’re talking about a used car salesman or a poisonous snake. No, they’re not the same thing.
In the natural world there are poisonous creatures that advertise their unpalatability with bright colors. Then there are other critters that try to protect themselves by merely mimicking the bright coloration of creatures that produce nasty toxins—but without actually expending the energy on making the toxins themselves. These mimics are hoping to get by by lying about being a bad meal. But what about the beasties that really are filled with poison. Can they lie, too? Maybe save a little energy by producing a less colorful display?
Well, scientists from the U.K. say, it looks like they can’t. See, when an animal makes a toxin, it also makes an antitoxin to keep it from poisoning itself. And those antitoxins are usually antioxidants, which also double as pigments. So the more toxic a critter is, the more antioxidants it needs, and the more honestly flamboyant its outfit, results published by the Royal Society on November 19th. So next time you run into a yellow-banded poison dart frog, remember, what you see is what you get.